2017-03-02 / Nature

The Binoculars Have Been Passed

By Charles Avenengo

This week the pen is passed – along with the binoculars – from Newport This Week’s nature writer Jack Kelly, who passed away last October, to a fellow reporter who was familiar with Jack, his work and his fan base.

For the past decade, Jack Kelly's name has been at the top of this nature column. With Jack's untimely passing a few months ago, I am returning to these pages, where I wrote on all things wildlife from 2001 to 2007.

The beginning of my transition back to Newport This Week dates to last fall. On a sunny, crisp morning, while birdwatching at Gooseneck Cove, I bumped into members of the Fifth Ward Bird Club. They were chasing around a sora, a small elusive marsh bird that was spotted earlier in the day. Jack was there. Unable to find the bird skulking about, he approached me and revealed the startling news that he had cancer and only a few months to live. He asked if I would consider taking over his nature column.

It was the last time I saw Jack. With the shock of his passing, it is difficult to revive what became of his column without reflecting on his transformation as a journalist. In retrospect, I was one of Jack’s biggest critics. There were times when I was more corrective than instructive. Jack generally listened, quietly. Sometimes he would take my suggestions; sometimes not.

Over the years, his writing grew tighter, and with his infectious enthusiasm for the subject, his readership steadily grew. Jack always had the ability to weave a tale. Eventually he branched out from birds and wrote about other aspects of wildlife. He went on assignments and began to write features. He always brought a camera, and eventually issues of Newport This Week were filled with his stories and photographs.

I remained a close observer. We always discussed his column and I offered my unsolicited advice. Like when Jack reported that a Fisher cat was spotted in Portsmouth. When I next saw Jack, I questioned his Fisher source. But Jack was right. And I realized that with his scoop he had arrived as a full-blown journalist. He had become a writer whose stories commanded a devoted following that significantly eclipsed any that I received during my time with Newport This Week.

That day at the marsh, after receiving his sad news and kind offer of succession, I told him, “Jack, you were right, there are Fishers on the island. You got the scoop.”

So with that admission, here we go. I can only hope to garner a fraction of the following Jack Kelly received. Furthermore, I can only hope to live up to his lead, which is to “Get it right.”

I would welcome topic suggestions. Please contact me at news@newportthisweek.net.

Return to top